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Archive for April, 2008

Turtles to be climate change canaries


Turtles to be climate change canaries

April 18, 2008 09:05 AM - WWF


Posted by Frank - April 18, 2008

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Humans might sense oxygen through skin


From Life

Humans Might Sense Oxygen Through Skin

Posted by Frank - April 17, 2008

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Satellite Images Reveal Shrinking Amazon Rainforest


 New Satellite Images Reveal a Shrinking Amazon Rainforest


Worldwatch Institute

Washington, D.C.- Deforestation of the Brazilian Amazon may be on the rise, according to high-resolution images released by an agency of the Brazilian government. The images suggest an end to a widely hailed three-year decline in the rate of deforestation and have spurred a public controversy among high-level Brazilian officials, writes Tim Hirsch, author of “The Incredible Shrinking Amazon Rainforest” in the May/June 2008 issue of World Watch magazine.

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Posted by Frank - From Environmental News Network, April 17, 2008

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Cleveland Zoo researchers find rare turtle in Vietnam


This undated photo provided by the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo shows a captive Swinhoe's soft-shell turtle from Thanh Hoa province in Vietnam. Zoo researchers recently discovered one of the rare giant turtles in the wild in northern Vietnam. (AP Photo/Cleveland Metroparks Zoo)

AP Photo: This undated photo provided by the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo shows a captive Swinhoe’s soft-shell turtle…

Cleveland zoo researchers find rare giant turtle in Vietnam

Researchers from the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo have discovered a rare giant turtle in northern Vietnam — a find that carries great scientific and cultural significance. Swinhoe’s soft-shell turtle was previously thought to be extinct in the wild. Three other turtles of the species are in captivity, said experts from the Zoo’s Asian turtle program.

The discovery represents hope for the species, said Doug Hendrie, the Vietnam-based coordinator of the zoo program.

Turtle expert Peter Pritchard, president of the Chelonian Research Institute, confirmed the find based on a photo Hendrie showed him.

“It looked like pretty solid evidence. The animal has a pretty distinctive head,” Pritchard said.

There have been rumors for years of a mythical creature living deep in the waters of a northern Vietnam lake. Some in a village west of Hanoi claimed to be blessed by catching a glimpse of it’s concave shell as it crested above the surface of their lake.

A national legend tells of a giant golden turtle that bestowed upon the Vietnamese people a magic sword and victory over Chinese invaders in the 16th century. Whether that sacred turtle has materialized in the 21st century will be a matter of cultural debate among the Vietnamese.

“This is one of those mythical species that people always talked about but no one ever saw,” said Geoff Hall, zoo general curator.

Of the other three Swinhoe’s soft-shell turtles in captivity, two are in Chinese zoos and the other is cared for in the Hoan Kiem (”Returned Sword”) Lake in downtown Hanoi — the lake in which the legendary turtle appeared to reclaim the sword from the emperor.

Pritchard said an amateur photographed a Swinhoe’s soft-shell turtle in southern China about six months ago that he believes was legitimate.

“It’s on the very brink of extinction, so every one counts,” Pritchard said.

The Cleveland Metroparks Zoo began its effort to preserve and protect Asian turtles in 2003 amid reports of increased killings for food or to make traditional medicine from their bones. Development and pollution also led to loss of nesting habitats along rivers, zoo officials said.

The zoo has put more than $275,000 into Asian turtle conservation efforts since 2000 and has supported Hendrie since 2003, officials said.

His team and scientists from Education for Nature-Vietnam had searched lakes and wetlands along the Red River for three years before hearing about the creature living outside Hanoi.

The turtle remains in the lake and researchers have notified the Vietnamese government of its existence, Hendrie said.

Information from:

Information from: The Plain Dealer,



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Sobering results from study of frog road-kill


 “When frogs hit the road, many croak”
Download photo <>


Vertebrate Road Mortality Predominately
Impacts Amphibians

David J. Glista, Travis L. DeVault, J. Andrew DeWoody

One potential contributor to global amphibian decline is mortality due to traffic (”road-kill”). Most studies of road-kill have focused on large mammals, but relatively little research has evaluated the impact of road-kill on other wild animals. We conducted multi-species road-kill surveys in Indiana, USA, to develop a road-kill database and to identify habitat characteristics associated with road-kill. Four different routes were surveyed for vertebrate mortalities twice weekly from 8 March 2005 to 31 July 2006. We recorded 10,515 mortalities representing > 60 species (n = 496 surveys). The most common species we encountered were Bullfrogs (Rana catesbeiana, n = 1,671), Virginia Opossums (Didelphis virginianus, n = 79), and Chimney Swifts (Chaetura pelagica, n = 36). We recorded thousands of anuran, but most (>7,500) could not be identified to species. Habitat variables that best predicted vertebrate mortality were water, forest, and urban/residential areas. Overall, our results suggested that road mortality impacts a wide variety of species and that habitat type strongly influences frequency of road-kill. Amphibians may be especially vulnerable because they often migrate en masse to or from breeding wetlands. Clearly, road-kill is a major source of amphibian mortality and may contribute to their global decline.

Road losses add up, taxing amphibians and other animals

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Road-kill

When frogs hit the road, many croak. Researchers found more than 65 animal species killed along a short stretch of roads in a Midwestern county. Nearly 95 percent of the total dead were frogs and other amphibians, suggesting that road-related death, or road-kill, possibly contributes to their worldwide decline, a trend that has concerned and puzzled scientists for decades.

The Purdue University study found that habitat along roadsides heavily influences road-kill. More than 75 percent of the carcasses originated alongside a one-mile stretch of road that traverses a wildlife-friendly wetland known as Celery Bog in West Lafayette, Ind.

“On hot summer nights when it rains, there are literally thousands of frogs out there,” said Andrew DeWoody, a Purdue researcher who led the study in Tippecanoe County, home to the university.

During the 17-month study, researchers found 10,500 dead animals along 11 miles of roads. Of those, 7,600 were frogs of unidentifiable species and another 1,700 were bullfrogs, said DeWoody, an associate professor of forestry and natural resources.

“In addition to indirect costs of habitat fragmentation, roads have direct costs in terms of animals’ lives,” he said. Several steps can be taken to help reduce road-kill, said Dave Glista, study co-author and a Purdue master’s graduate who began the study as part of his since-completed thesis measuring roads’ environmental impact. For one, development planning should take into account an area’s wildlife value. Second, structures to mitigate, limit and prevent road-kill should be explored whenever possible, he said. Options include underpasses, viaducts and overpasses to allow wildlife safe passage, and special fences to keep animals off roads.

“We need to avoid, minimize and mitigate,” said Glista, now a scientist with the Indiana Department of Transportation. “As a biologist, I do think we should avoid building roads in wetlands and other wildlife-rich areas. Mitigation structures are worth the cost, as is any measure we can take to minimize our impact on the overall environment.”

Scientists estimate that one-third of amphibian species are threatened, and hundreds of species have gone extinct in the past two decades alone. Road-kill adds to numerous factors already implicated in amphibian declines, DeWoody said. These include habitat loss and degradation, disease, pollution, competition from introduced exotic species, and threats posed by climate change.

Frogs, toads and salamanders are all amphibians, a class of four-legged animals known for their moist, scale-free skin. Most species begin life as gilled, water-dwelling creatures before undergoing a dramatic metamorphosis to become four-legged, air-breathing adults, walking or hopping about on land. They serve vital roles in many ecosystems, as consumers of various animals like insects and as a food source for carnivores. To maintain healthy ecosystems, it is vital to limit amphibian losses, DeWoody said.

The study, published online in the latest issue of the journal Herpetological Conservation and Biology, significantly underestimated the number of animals killed because many specimens were scavenged, degraded beyond recognition or moved, DeWoody said. About five times more animals died than could be recorded, he estimated.

The dead included 142 road-killed eastern tiger salamanders, a finding DeWoody said was troubling.
“The absolute number might not look that large, but most of these individuals were mature, up to 10 years old,” DeWoody said. “Many of them were gravid, or females bearing eggs on an annual trip to breeding grounds where they often lay 500 to 1,000 eggs. This could make a potentially big difference for the population.

Researchers also found 74 dead northern leopard frogs, a species of special conservation concern in Indiana.

To survive, most amphibians require habitats with running or standing fresh water, in which they lay eggs and begin life. This makes them vulnerable to water pollution and land-use changes like drainage or waterway disruption. Habitats like wetlands and rainforests are in decline worldwide, DeWoody said.

In addition to the toll on frogs and other amphibians, roadways put a wide variety of other animals at risk, he said. Road-killed animals identified in the study included:

* 79 opossums, the most common mammal;

* 36 chimney swifts, most common bird;

* 35 common garter snakes, most common reptile;

* 43 raccoons; and

* 4 white-tailed deer.

Glista said he was surprised to find relatively few deer, but he speculated that more may have been hit and were either able to run away or were removed from the roadway.

“We think of deer as being one of the animals more commonly killed on the road, but they actually make up a tiny percentage of the total,” he said. “I think that helps put the impact in perspective.”

Most road-kill was found along Lindberg Road, which passes through Celery Bog Nature Area in West Lafayette, Ind. Along a one-kilometer (0.6-mile) section, an average of eight amphibians were killed each day, DeWoody said.

Funded by the Joint Transportation Research Program, a partnership of the Indiana Department of Transportation and Purdue, the study focused on road-killed vertebrates, or animals with backbones.

Glista said it took some “backbone” to slowly drive a specially marked vehicle and stop for data samples along four sections of roads in Tippecanoe County twice weekly. During the 496 trips, he said he had close calls with motorists, but always remained careful.

“I didn’t want to become one of my own data points,” he said.

Writer: Douglas M. Main, (765) 496-2050,
Sources: Andrew DeWoody, 765-426-8603,

David Glista, (317)234-5241,

Ag Communications: (765) 494-2722;
Beth Forbes,
Agriculture News Page <>

Dead frogs and other road-kill line Lindberg Road in West Lafayette, Ind., that traverses a wetland known as Celery Bog in this 2005 photo. Research shows that frogs and other amphibians are particularly hard hit by road-related death; it may be a contributing factor to their worldwide decline, says Purdue researcher Andrew DeWoody. (Purdue University photo/Andrew DeWoody)

A publication-quality photo is available at
Posted by Frank - April 16, 2008

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Komodo Dragon Secret Revealed


Komodo Dragon’s Deadly Secret Revealed


LiveScience Staff

LiveScience.comMon Apr 14, 12:15 PM ET

Komodo dragons may have a wimpy bite for their size, but somehow the giant lizards manage to take down prey as large as water buffalos.

A new study reveals that a few dozen razor-sharp teeth combined with beefy neck muscles make up for the reptile’s dainty chomp.

“The Komodo has a featherweight, space-frame skull and bites like a wimp, but a combination of very clever engineering and wickedly sharp teeth allow it to do serious damage,” said Stephen Wroe, a biologist at the University of New South Wales in Australia.

Wroe and his colleague Karen Moreno detail their findings about Komodo dragons, a type of monitor lizard found in central Indonesia that can grow nearly 10 feet (3 meters) in length and weigh 154 pounds (70 kilograms), in a recent issue of the Journal of Anatomy.

To investigate the mystery of how the Komodo dragon can attack with deadly force without powerful chompers, Wroe and Moreno built a model of its head and throat with software normally used to analyze minute forces in vehicles. The jaw may be weak, but 100 million years of evolution have given the dragon - the largest living species of lizard - other tools to succeed.

“The Komodo displays a unique hold-and-pull feeding technique,” Wroe said. “Its delicate skull differs greatly from most living terrestrial large prey specialists, but it’s a precision instrument.”

He explained that the lizard nabs prey with 60 perilous teeth, although its bite is weak. To make up for the lack of biting power, strong throat muscles drag the meal through the razor-sharp jowls and into the stomach.

Wroe said the eating action removes dangerous stress from the fragile yet streamlined skull.

“This remarkable reduction in stress … is facilitated partly by the shape of the bones,” he said, noting also that their arrangement is a key to success.

Once a Komodo dragon maims its prey, which can weigh nearly as much as the lizard, it is swallowed whole and later regurgitated in a foul-smelling pellet of hair, bone and other indigestible remains. The lizards are also known for their infectious bites and parthenogenesis, or the ability to reproduce without mating.

Visit for more daily news, views and scientific inquiry with an original, provocative point of view.

Posted by Frank - April 15, 2008


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Man faces jail for smuggling endangered iguanas in fake leg


A Californian man faces jail after being convicted of smuggling stolen rare Fiji Island banded iguanas, as seen here, into the United States inside his prosthetic leg, justice officials said Friday.(AFP/OFF)

AFP/OFF Photo: A Californian man faces jail after being convicted of smuggling stolen rare Fiji Island banded…

Man faces jail for smuggling iguanas in fake leg


Fri Apr 11, 4:46 PM ET

A Californian man faces jail after being convicted of smuggling stolen rare iguanas into the United States inside his prosthetic leg, justice officials said Friday.

Jereme James, 34, was convicted on two counts of smuggling and possessing endangered animals and is due to be sentenced on July 14, a statement from the US Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles said.

Prosecutors said James stole three baby Fiji Island banded iguanas from an ecological preserve while on a trip to the South Pacific islands in 2002 and smuggled them by concealing them in the compartment of a prosthetic leg.

The iguanas are threatened with extinction because of habitat loss and are considered an endangered species.



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"Government Snake" , originally uploaded by EcoSnake.

Great basin gopher snake (Pituophis catenifer deserticola) referring to the article from the Chronical of Higher Education posted below…

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Reflections on the consequences of overlooking education


The most important thing we can do to preserve, protect and conserve amphibians and reptiles is to learn about them. Learning about them means we understand their life histories, their behavior, their habitat and how they relate to all other life forms on earth including humans. Our capacity to learn is based not only on our inherent intellect, but also on how we use that intellect to understand our own histories and cultures and how knowledge of the past enables us to live in the present and influence the future of our planet.

I’m posting this article by investigative reporter and professor at Case Western Reserve University Ted Gup, published in the most recent edition of The Chronicle of Higher Education, because I believe it directly relates to the challenges we face, not only in educating about nature and wildlife, but also the challenges we face in educating ourselves about ourselves.

Thanks - Posted by Frank - April 9, 2008

So Much for the Information Age

Today’’s college students have tuned out the world and it’s partly our fault

By Ted Gup, From the Chronicle of Higher Education April 11, 2008

I teach a seminar called “Secrecy: Forbidden Knowledge.” I recently asked my class of 16 freshmen and sophomores, many of whom had graduated in the top 10 percent of thier high-school classes and had dazzling SAT scores, how many had heard the word “rendition.”

Not one hand went up.

This is after four years of the word appearing on the front pages of the nation’s newspapers, on network and cable news, and online. This is after years of highly publicized lawsuits, Congressional inquiries, and international controversy and condemnation. This is after the release of a Hollywood film of that title, starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Meryle Streep and Reese Witherspoon.

I was dumbstruck. Finally one hand went up, and the student sheepishly asked if rendition had anything to do with a version of a movie or a play.

I nodded charitably, then attempted to define the word in its more public context. I described specific accounts of U.S. abductions of foreign citizens, of the likely treatment accorded such prisoners when placed in the hands of countries like Syria and Egypt, of the months and years of detention. I spoke of the lack of formal charges, of some prisoners eventual release and how their subsequent lawsuits against the U. S. government were stymied in the name of national security and secrecy.

The students were visibly disturbed. They expressed astonishment, then revulsion. They asked how such practices could go on.

I told them to look around the room at one another’s faces.; they were seated next to the answer. I suggested that there were, in part, the reasons that rendition, waterboarding, Guantanamo, detention, warrantless searches and intercepts, and a host of of other such practices have not been roundly discredited. I admit I was harsh.

That instance was no aberration. In recent years I have administered a dumbed-down quiz on current events and history early in each semester to get a sense of what my students know and don’t know. Initially I worried that its simplicity would insult them, but my fears were unfounded. The results have been, well, horrifying.

Nearly half of a recent class could not name a single country thatt bordered Israel. In an introductory journalism class, 11 of 13 students could not name what country Kabul was in, although we have been at war there for half a decade. Last fall only one in 21 students could name the U.S. secretary of defense. Given a list of four countries — China, Cuba, India and Japan — not one of those same 21 students could identify India and Japan as democracies. Their grasp of history was little better. The question of when the Civil War was fought invited an array of responses — half a dozen were off by a decade or more. Some students thought that Islam was the principal religion of South America, that Roe v. Wade was about slavery, that 50 justices sit on the U.S. Supreme Court, that the atom bomb was dropped on Hiroshima in 1975. You get the picture, and it isn’t pretty.

As a journalist, professor, and citizen, I find it profoundly discouraging to encounter such ignorance of critical issues. But it would be both unfair and inaccurate to hold those young people accountable for the moral and legal morass we now find ourselves in as a nation. They are earnest, readily educable, and, when informed, impassioned.

I make it clear to my students that it is not only their right but their duty to arrive at their own conclusions. They are free to defend rendition, waterboarding, or any other aspect of America’s post 9/11 armamentarium. But I challenge their right to tune out the world, and I question any system or society that can produce such students and call them educated. I am concerned for the nation when a cohort of students so talented and bright is oblivious to all such matters. If they are failing us, it is because we have failed them.

Still, it is hard to reconcile the students” lack of knowledge with the notion that they are a part of the celebrated information age, creatures of the Internet who arguably have at their disposal more information than all the preceding generations combined. Despite their Blackberrys, cellphones, and Wi-Fi, they are, in their own way, as isolated as the remote tribes of New Guinea. They disprove the notion that technology fosters engagement that connectivity and community are synonymous. I despair to think that this is the generation brought up under the banner of “No Child Left Behind.” What I see is the specter of an entire generation left behind and left out.

It is not easy to explain how we got into this sad state, or to separate symptoms from causes. Newspaper readership is in steep decline. My students simply do not read newspapers, online or otherwise, and many grew up in households that did not subscribe to a paper. Those who tune into television “news” are subjected to a barrage of opinion from talking heads like CNN’s demagogic Lou Dobbs and MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, and Fox”s Bill O’Reilly, and his dizzying “No Spin Zone.” In today’s journalistic world, opinion trumps fact (the former cheaper to produce). and rank partisanship and virulent culture wars make the middle ground uninhabitable. Small wonder, then , that my students shrink from it.

Then, too, there is the explosion of citizen journalism. An army of average Joes, equipped with cellphones, laptops and video cameras has commandeered our new media. The mantra of “We want to hear from you!” is all the rage, from CNN to NPR, but although invigorating and democratizing, it has failed to supplant the provision of essential facts, generating more heat than light. Many of my students can report on the latest travails of celebrities, or the sexual follies of politicos, and can be forgiven for thinking that such matters dominate the news — they do! Even those students whose home pages open onto news sites have tailored them to parochial interests — sports, entertainment, weather — that are a pale substitute for the scope and sweep of a good front page or the PBS Newshour with Jim Lehrer” (which many students seem ready to pickle in formaldehyde).

Civics is decidely out of fashion in the high-school classroom, a quaint throwback superseded by courses in technology. As teachers scramble to “teach to the test,” civics is increasingly relegated to after-school clubs and geeky graduation prizes. Somehow my students sailed through high school courses in government and social studies without acquiring the habit of keeping abreast of national and international events. What little they know of such matters they have absorbed through popular culture — song lyrics, parody, and comedy. The Daily Show with Jon Stewart is as close as many dare get to actual news.

Yes, the post-9/11 world is a scary place, and plenty of diversions can absorb young people’s attention and energies, as well as distract them from the anxieties of preparing for a career in an increasingly uncertain economy. But that respite comes at a cost.

As a journalist I have spent my career promoting transparency and accountability. But my experiences in the classroom humble and and chasten me. They remind me that challenges to secrecy and opacity are moot if society does not avail itself of information that is readily accessible. Indeed, our very failure to digest the accessible helps to create and environment in which secrecy can run rampant.

It is time to once again make current events an essential part of the curriculum. Families and schools must instill in students the habit of following what is happening in the world. A global economy will have little use for a country whose people are so self-absorbed that they know nothing of their own nation’s present or past, much less the world’s. There is a fundamental difference between shouldering the rights and responsibilities that come with citizenship — engagement, participation, debate — and merely inhabiting the land.

As a nation, we spend an inordinate amount of time fretting about illegal immigration and painfully little on what it meas to be a citizen, beyond the legal status conferred by accident of birth or public processing. We are too busy building a wall around us to notice that we are shutting ourselves in. Intent on exporting democracy — spending blood and billions in pursuit of it abroad –we have shown a decided lack of interest in exercising or promoting democracy at home.

The noted American scholar Robert A. Hutchins said decades ago, “The object of the educational system, taken as a whole, is not to produce hands for industry or to teach the young how to make a living. It is to produce responsible citizens.” He warned that “the death of a democracy is not likely to be an assassination from ambush. It will be a slow extinction from apathy, indifference, and undernourishment.” I fear he was right.

I tell the students in my secrecy class that they are required to attend. After all, we count on one another; without student participation, it just doesn’t work. The same might be said of democracy. Attendance is mandatory.

Ted Gup is a professor of journalism at Case Western Reserve University and author of Nation of Secrets: The Threat to Democracy and the American Way of Life (Doubleday, 2007)

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Lungless frog discovered - Medicinal properties of alligator blood


Two remarkable articles from National Geographic News:

First Lungless Frog Found

frog picture

The Indonesian amphibian may have evolved to respire through its skin as an adaptation to its cold, fast-moving stream habitat, a new study says.

Alligator Blood May Lead to Powerful New Antibiotics

image Proteins in the reptiles’ blood have been shown to kill drug resistant bacteria and even to partially destroy the virus that causes AIDS, researchers announced.

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